Feeling raw


Sunshine Decembers.
It’s the sunny days
when death comes calling,
comes to tell you
The brief whispers of trees
against wind,
against fate.
Soft soil clings to me,
clings to you.
Adding this day
to my list of death
in December.

I wrote this poem last year after I found out that my friend, Bill, had died. December is increasingly becoming a hard and heavy month for me.
This December, I am feeling heartsore already. Some of it is the regular winter blahs that strike me this time of the year anyway. Some of it is that life simply feels more fragile, more close to the edge of death, more achy and full of missing, at this time of the year. Because it is cold in a way that makes my bones ache. Because my body subconsciously associates these days with grief. Because the Christmas “season” screams everything is happy and beautiful and abundant! when most of the world so obviously isn’t. Because life just is fragile.

Christmastime will forever be tinged with sadness in my mind. The carols are a little melancholy, and the lights are beautiful in a way that brings a lump to my throat.

December 8th, in my junior year of high school, on a regular Thursday afternoon, my entire school (of 120 kids. It was a teeny-tiny high school) was called to an assembly. I was more or less glad to get out of my Journalism class for no particular reason. We were all more or less ready to be done with the school year already. I remember sitting in one of the back pews and asking my friends what was going on. No one really knew, but my friend Danny turned around in the row in front of me and said “I think Doug died.” “What?” “Doug died.”
My classmate, in our Junior class of thirty, had died that morning in a motocross accident.
Death comes and snatches your breath away, and there is no time to prepare. We were all sixteen and looking at each other with wide-eyes, none of us were ready for dying.

It was also on December 8th, but just two years ago, that I was awakened at 5am by my roommate. I opened my eyes to her torn up face and the words, “Elyse. My dad died.”
It wasn’t my loss directly, but my heart broke a little. As a child of any parent, that death is a tragedy you have always know is coming, but it always comes too soon. And losing your dad at twenty-two is far too soon.

The Christmas of my sixth year will always be marked by December 12th, and 20th. My sister’s birthday, and her death date. The first two thoughts that come to mind for that Christmas are:  the glinting lights from the firetruck outside our house -the red, yellow and white dancing in the puddles at the end of our driveway. And that icy feeling that runs through my entire body when I think of the way my mother sobbed and carried my dead sister in her arms down our hallway.  It was at six years-old that I began to learn that December is really hard on your heart.

Most recently, was the death of my friend Bill. Bill was an older man that I met the summer after I graduated high school, when I was volunteering as a hospice companion. Bill wasn’t on hospice himself, but he was never in good health when I knew him. Even those deaths you know are coming, hit you hard. My friendship with Bill lasted after I started volunteering at the facility where he lived, after he moved to the Coast and back again, after I graduated college even. He was a terribly bitter and angry man -quick to resentment and cutting ties. Some days he was hard to love, but he cared for me in his own way, he hoped for good things for me. He helped me grow in how I am able to love people
I only found out that he had died when I gave him a call –after I had waited too many weeks and months to see how he was doing- and couldn’t get through to him. Eventually I called the front desk of the care home he was in, and asked for him. The curt receptionist told me that he had died “a while ago,” and had no other information to offer. I hung up the phone, both stunned and not-surprised. Bill died in November, but it was December 13th that I lost him. He left the world with no obituary, no funeral, no peace. I only found out that he died because I finally called. . . I had said goodbye to him many times that last year, but in the number of months we hadn’t been in touch before he died, I hope, I hope, he felt loved and not forgotten.

These last few years, I have embraced the fact that December feels sad. I am settling into, rather than fighting, this rhythm. This year in particular, I am starting to, trying to, see the redemption in that.
Tonight, I just finished watching the movie Jack Frost –about a boy who loses his dad at Christmastime- with my dear roommate, who is marking the second anniversary of her own dad’s death. There are just moments when hurt cuts all your breaths in half. When life levels us and we have no legs on which to stand.
Sometimes there are whole seasons of this, and they come time and again.
Tonight, I really have no pithy conclusions on hope and advent and whatever the hell it is that I am learning these days. The world is kicking my ass. Totally and completely. But, you, Jesus, saw fit to experience that pain with us. As a man. And that too is the truth of this season. Even when your incarnation feels awfully distant. And your babyness in a manger somewhere in the Middle East, is altogether foreign. I myself have no hope beyond this sorrow. You are my lifeline in this ashen world. Even when I find that impossibly hard to hold on to.
And somewhere in that is the significance of this season.

The feeling of wonder at the incarnation of Christ always seemed just a little beyond my understanding. I am beginning to understand, though, that feeling of utter gratefulness when you are bloodied and brought to your knees, only to have someone pull you up into their arms. When everything in life points to death, every moment, every turning of every cell -what a complete grace to be handed a different ending.
This world is broken, so by all means it should feel sad -not just in December, but all the time. Maybe my extra sadness during December can make the coming of Christ just that much more poignant. Because the brokenness and loss I feel during these days, is exactly the brokenness and loss that Christ came to redeem. My brokenness. The hurt and sorrow of the world. The perpetual living and dying, and loving and losing. So maybe, me feeling especially heartachy during this season can in turn help me be especially thankful. Can in turn help me to live on the cusp of both life and death -in that keen awareness that every moment is about living and dying, that every moment is about profoundly falling short and being profoundly redeemed.

My heart is a heavy load today.

Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh



  1. Wow, that is so powerful. When will the publishing world catch up with you? I hope you have got them all collected to publish some day. Even if you have to self-publish.

  2. Kim David Mattson · · Reply

    Oh Elyse thank you so much for this! I have read it twice now. I love your format of a personal vignette, followed by the connection to how a faith in Christ supports you. In sharing your own broken-ness you give guidance and help heal others. I know. Kim

  3. Your writing is just incredible. Your faith is Mammoth and I thank God for it.

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